CVIndependent

Sun11182018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

These days, it’s impossible for an American citizen fortunate enough to have been born with a functioning mind not to worry about guns and the men who love them—and the innocent victims some of those gun-lovers kill. 

National Rifle Association spokesman Wayne LaPierre, who tends to blame school shootings on rap music, has accused the government, aided by the press, of attempting to discredit firearms enthusiasts by issuing propaganda worthy of the Nazis. Then there’s Alex Jones, the conspiracy-theorist host of Infowars, ranting to his radio followers that the Sandy Hook school shooting of 26 people, 20 of them first-graders, was “a giant hoax. … The whole thing was fake.” Jones is now being sued by some of the bereaved families for claiming that the massacre was staged, using actors hired by the government—all part of a plot to set the stage for seizing our guns.

LaPierre strikes me a brazen profiteer—he made more than $5 million in compensation from the NRA in 2015—and Jones is either deranged or evil, or both. Because of such men, too many of us who long for rational gun laws have given up hope, concluding that the legions of gullible citizens influenced by people like LaPierre and Jones carry so much political weight that meaningful legislation has become impossible.

I thought that, too, until a man I’d done a professional favor for invited me to hunt turkeys on a ranch in west Texas.

There were six of us in the hunting party, and on our first morning, we were up well before first light. We ate steak-and-egg breakfasts, and set out, two to a pickup truck, to hunt. My partner was Robert, the man who had invited me. As we bounced along a dirt road bordering the Concho River, he told me the particulars of his brand new full-choke, 12-gauge Remington and the super-magnum shells it fired. Then he asked about my gun, and complimented my sense of family loyalty for choosing to use my grandfather’s 12-gauge Ithaca side-by-side.

“Isn’t this it?” Robert said. 

“What?” I asked.

“Turkey hunting! Guns! The most damn fun it’s possible for a human being to have!”

That morning, we did have fun. I bagged a gobbler. Robert called it in, and at a range of 30 yards, the kill was clean. Two or three miles away and another hour later, Robert called in a pair of gobblers and killed the larger one, a bird well more than 20 pounds and sporting a 10-inch beard.

We were the first pickup back to the ranch house. The second vehicle arrived a half-hour later; one of the hunters had killed a gobbler, while the other had missed a difficult shot. The third truck soon came in; nobody in it had seen or heard a turkey.

In mid-morning, after the three bagged birds had been dressed and plucked, two six-packs of beer came out of the ranch house, along with six .22 rifles. For three hours, behind a large barn, we shot at paper targets fastened to bales of straw.

After lunch, we drove in two trucks to the river, with five revolvers and plenty of ammunition. We parked on a streamside meadow where the Concho ran deep and slow, and the afternoon routine was simple: One man at a time was stationed upstream to throw sticks of driftwood into the water while the rest sat in the shade of cottonwoods, blazing away at the sticks as they floated by, cheering hits and scoffing at misses. From a distance, it must have sounded like a war zone.

I spent three days and nights at the ranch and talked at length with my companions about ethical hunting, politics, spectator sports, law, medicine and, of course, guns. We spent many hours shooting at paper targets, drift wood and empty cans, using up at least as much ammunition as all the Clint Eastwood movies ever made. Yet none of these gun-lovers had a single positive word to say about either the NRA or self-serving demagogues like LaPierre and Jones. They were intelligent, articulate and not afraid of stating their views—and there have to be tens of thousands of people like them in the West.

A week later, a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, ended with eight students and two teachers dead. Unlike the aftermath of the horrific shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, public outrage seemed almost muted. Then on May 25, it happened again, this time in Indiana: A middle-school student shot two people, including the teacher who bravely tackled him before he could shoot more.

Please, fellow hunters: Summon the courage to speak up. Make yourselves known. If enough of you do, common sense might just stand a chance.

Michael Baughman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He writes in Oregon.

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As the West’s elected officials wrestle with how to protect us from gun violence in the aftermath of the Las Vegas nightmare and the Texas church shooting, a truth comes to mind: These leaders are not actually wrestling with the issue of how to protect us from gun violence. If they were, the solution would be as clear as a mountain stream: Treat people more like fish.

Here in the West, fish get far more protection than people. If you’re an adult, you need a license to fish. In Colorado and other states, that license limits you to two fishing rods at a time. Keeping fish is often forbidden, and barbless hooks are often required to boost the odds that your catch-and-release gem lives to see another day.

Live bait is frequently illegal, and hook size and the fishing season itself are often limited. There are restrictions on the size of kept fish and “bag limits” on how many a caster can keep. All of these rules are in place for one true-West reason: “Fish deserve a fighting chance.”

The safeguards don’t stop there. Heard of the zebra mussel? Our states spend a fortune to fight the threat a tiny invasive mollusk presents to the safety of our finned friends. In California, you can’t possess a gaffe, a spear or even a long-handled net within 100 yards of a body of water

To prove they’re serious about enforcing piscine protections, hard-working government employees walk shores to make sure you and I are giving brookies and bluegills their fair shot. Good things, these measures. They’re very reasonable and welcomed by sportsmen and women across the West. Even our political leaders praise these common-sense policies that “protect a valuable resource” and wisely maintain a treasured part of life.

Better still, any U.S. senators who give a crap about crappies are unlikely to face a political backlash or high-dollar effort to drive them from office. No politicians have lost their seats for being pro-Power Bait or anti-nightcrawler. We don’t rant on Twitter about jackboots and slippery slopes caused by fishing licenses. No well-funded politically charged campaign declares: “Spinning Rods Don’t Kill Fish. People Do.”

More astounding: Westerners don’t fear these restrictions, even when their right to bear fishing poles isn’t secured for eternity in the Constitution. But when it comes to the right to bear arms, the reasonable limitations of fishing are swept downstream with sanity. Uncle Sam doesn't require a license to buy a deadly weapon. At some gun stores, he’s fine with you buying a 500-rounds-a-minute semi-automatic weapon.

In the West, you can possess a militia-sized arsenal well within 100 yards of a body of people, along with the deadliest ammunition, in any size and amount. Many politicians refuse to limit this dangerous status quo “in any fashion” … while holding anglers to just two rods and artificial bait.

Meanwhile, it’s open season on humans, and there’s no effort to reduce the bag limit or limit places where our loved ones get taken out. We stop large-caliper hooks, but do nothing about large-caliber weapons. Schools of fish get hearty government backup. Schools of children and teachers do not.

Come on, folks: Let’s act rationally and fix this. Please, no more talk of prying guns out of people’s “cold, dead hands.” There were 58 pairs of those hands in Las Vegas. They belonged to brave cops, EMTs, security guards and everyday heroes who risked their lives to help bleeding strangers. They belonged to fathers, mothers, siblings, sons, daughters and friends who paid the worst price for simply going out to have a good time.

Those people; their families; the 500-plus others who were injured; and the thousands of others who escaped physical injury but live with terrible memories of the trauma deserved way more protection than we provided. In a real game of war, on people, the odds were stacked against them.

Isn’t a human life as valuable as that of a trout?

Marty Jones is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He writes in Denver.

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